Unlocking the Past | Hotel saw plenty of drama

IF THESE WALLS COULD TALK: The Northumberland Hotel operated in Vincent Street, Cessnock, from 1909 to 1979. Picture: Cessnock City Library Local Studies Collection
IF THESE WALLS COULD TALK: The Northumberland Hotel operated in Vincent Street, Cessnock, from 1909 to 1979. Picture: Cessnock City Library Local Studies Collection

When the Northumberland Hotel closed its doors in 1979, it ended 70 years of operation as a major Cessnock venue.

It opened in May 1909 and like many others in the Hunter Valley was owned by Tooth and Company Limited.

Hotels were an important public gathering place for the community. They provided accommodation for locals and travelers, were a place to meet friends and socialise and could be a site for political and union meetings.

So it is not surprising that over its long history the Northumberland Hotel certainly saw plenty of drama, celebration and even heartbreak.

We will never know what desperation led Cessnock local, 42-year-old David Morgan, to check into the hotel and take his own life. He was found in an upstairs bedroom in August 1912. His sad funeral notice described him as his mother's 'beloved son'.

The hotel's first female licensee, Mrs. Anstey, certainly had a baptism of (literal) fire. She took over in 1916 and in June that year a dramatic blaze almost burnt the hotel down.

Shortly before midnight a fire began in the first-floor kitchen when a chimney overheated and caught alight. Seeing a reflection of flames in a window Mrs. Anstey leapt into action rousing all the residents and moving them outside to safety.

A barmaid at the hotel, Miss Gowing, lived-in at the hotel and her bedroom was close to the centre of the outbreak. Emerging from her room, she faced a dilemma. The fire had cut her off and in order to get to safety she had to bolt down a narrow passage way filled with smoke and fire.

Miss Gowing gathered her courage and ran through the flames, the fire becoming so close that it singed her hair. She was uninjured, but reports of the incident say she 'suffered terribly from shock'.

Also living at the hotel was Cessnock Shire Council engineer, G. F. Lindeman, who attempted to douse the fire with a jug of water from his bedroom. That proved ineffective, so he ran from the scene, severely burning his feet.

Cessnock residents came running to assist, along with the Cessnock Fire Brigade, led by Captain Craig. Hoisting a fire hose up and over the upstairs balcony, they aimed it directly onto the site of the fire, saving the Northumberland Hotel, which would go on serving drinks for decades to come.

  • Kimberly O'Sullivan is the Local Studies Librarian at Cessnock City Library. Email her: kimberly.osullivan@cessnock.nsw.gov.au.

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